Hi I’m Ashley Tendekai, a multimedia artist currently doing a masters in sound design, with particular experience in feature filmmaking, music production, song-writing and photography. I volunteered to write a blog post about my experiences with mental health, for Black Owned Economy, as it is a topic which has affected my life. I felt it would be important to try and share experiences in the hope it will have a positive impact, or impression, on someone else who may be going through something similar. In this article I will anecdotally cover the following:
Noticing depressive inputs in life,
How mood is affected by lifestyle,
Identifying habits which need changing,
Steps taken for a positive impact.
I have suffered from depression for a very long time (more than a decade) and it wasn’t until recently that I actually fully comprehended what this meant, or what this feeling represented or even what this was. It was only a couple of years ago when I was doing some video editing whilst listening to my friend Deepak Shukla’s vlog series on YouTube titled ‘Love, Life and Entrepreneurship’ (Ep 3), that I first began to understand and notice the signs that pointed towards depressive habits.
Noticing The signs – Knowing and Paying Attention to Yourself
In this vlog Deepak speaks of his time in therapy following the end of a relationship. He mentioned how he was advised to assess the potentially depressive inputs in his life and to take action to dampen their effect. This is what led me to take a moment to reflect on my own life situations, to try and understand myself and my behavioural habits better. The best way to illustrate how depression feels and affects people internally is basically parallel to the feeling you get from a hangover after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Anecdotally speaking, the day after a heavy drink there is an overruling feeling of lethargy, a lack of impetus and enthusiasm for even the simplest tasks such as preparing a meal for breakfast or lunch for example; it is a state which leaves you without any enthusiasm for anything. Now this feeling contrasted with the invigorating rush of excitement and accomplishment I’ve experienced from taking part in favourable activities, such as: music performance, song writing, sports or socialising; and it all begins to make sense that these are very different states of mind. The key thing that helped me notice these differences was when I’d spend time meditating, reflecting, trying to understand why in some moments of life it was really difficult to motivate myself to do things, which I could very easily be motivated with in other periods.
I spent some time doing research online to help myself understand things a bit better and picked up on a number of depressive red flags about my living environment and habits which had incrementally contributed to depression. Ensuring I limited depressive inputs in life and maximised more motivational actions as an active deterrent was one of the first steps in the process. Some of the habits I tried to curb included:
Spending too much time alone
Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms (a likely consequence of video editing)
Listening to too much downtempo music and not enough upbeat stuff
Drinking alcohol (it is a depressant)
There may have been other more complex internal or external factors (such as family life or entrapment from cultural doctrine/ conflict), I have not mentioned because I didn’t take notice of their effect, and how they may have contributed to depression, but the four bullet points above were the core symptoms I decided to target on improving.
Good Health Habits...In Context
Moving forward I tried to focus on habits I could cultivate in order to improve my mental health based around my current habits and engaging more often in the activities I enjoyed.
I spent more time travelling around the country when I could. This was to perform music live in different parts of the country but also worked really well for socialising. The combination of a change in scenery and being in the company of likeminded electronic music producers had a really positive effect, and was an effective way of reducing the amount of time spent alone (which can be an inherent habit when you are a creative that thrives in solitude). I ended up co-hosting electronic music open mic events in Nottingham as a way of regularly engaging with this community of musicians.
To get around the issue of spending too much time in dimly lit rooms I made more of an effort to get outside whilst the sun was out (or even if it was cloudy). This was also important for getting some natural vitamin D from sunlight, since one of the side-effects of vitamin D deficiency is depression. Simply going for walks with my camera or portable recorder to capture some spontaneous video/photography or soundscapes and field recordings again seemed to refresh the scenery and got me engaged in doing things I enjoyed. Last year I purchased an iPad whilst I was in New York which enabled me to formulate musical ideas outside without the baggage and risk that comes with carrying a Macbook Pro. This year during the 2nd month of the lockdown I purchased a bike so I could continue to exercise and spend more time outside, since I prefer cycling over jogging.
I make a conscious effort to avoid listening to downtempo music when I’m experiencing depressive episodes, and instead opt for something more upbeat, I can’t resist a good dance sometimes.
“Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.”
Here’s an example of something downtempo: https://flvz.bandcamp.com/track/butterflies-2
Here’s an example of something more upbeat: https://flvz.bandcamp.com/track/butterflies-alternate-version
It’s important to be contextual when giving or taking advice regarding mental health. For example, I have always enjoyed taking part in sports; it has been an enjoyable part of my life in many forms either viewing or participation. Some people hate sports; they hate the environment sports cultivates in its competitiveness and they might hate exercise as a consequence for example. I guess it’s important to realise when choosing to participate in sports or exercise it is for a personalised goal than a globalised one; therefore there are some exercises which can be therapeutic and completed in complete solitude such as yoga, cycling or jogging and to a certain extent a trip to the gym. Being in the company of other people even without engaging too much in any interaction can be healthy for the mind, its kind a passive form of socialising and it can be healthy for the mind to refresh your scenery for some days of the week. Anyone can enjoy exercise, its just about finding something we’d like to partake in. Interacting with others more often through exercise means we’re not alone, as we have peers to encourage and uplift our spirits which can be a powerful source of motivation!
And I’ve made a conscious choice to reduce the amount of alcoholic in take particularly during more difficult periods (when my mood is not elevated enough). At one stage in recent years I’d got into the habit of having one or two bottles of beers per night with a meal, and I’ve since completely stopped this and opted for water with my meals instead, so reducing the regularity of drinking alcohol was also an effective step I took. I have also noticed how much drinking tea really elevates my mood and this has now become my daily habit. I’m particularly a fan of Chai, green or dark, I’m there (yes that’s a capital C for Chai)! So your diet does actually play an important role in your mood and well being. It’s important not to let yourself go hungry for long periods throughout your daily routine, so making sure you plan your day so you have something to eat during busy periods can really make a difference.
It can be really difficult to fully comprehend the causes of depression on an individual basis and in this article I’m only speaking based on my experiences and what has worked for me. Everyone is different and has different things that will and will not work for them. Taking time to pay attention to yourself, being honest with yourself and also speaking with close friends or family can really make a difference in helping you understand your habits a bit better. Black Minds Matter (https://www.blackmindsmatteruk.com) is a really good charity I discovered recently through raising money from my music for pro black organisations. They regularly publish some very informing posts on Instagram and I’d highly recommend giving them a follow to learn more and also to show them support (I am in no way employed or affiliated with Black Minds Matter).
My social handles